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Enemy subs in US territorial waters and harbors?


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Operation Drumbeat is the book's name I was thinking of. It is written by Michael Gannon.

 

 

There is a book out there, the name escapes me at the moment, that details U-Boat journies to the states. Gunther Prien was one of the commanders in the book. My 9th grade science teacher was a kid in New York during WW2. He used to tell us stories of life jackets, bodies, cargo, etc. washing up on shore. I have also read where the Germans were surprised when they reached the shores of the U.S., that blackout's weren't in operation. It made it easy for them to target ships that were outlined by the lights of the cities. New York was one of them as well as some cities in the Gulf of Mexico.
Edited by Dave
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Not so. The "Happy Time" for the U-boats off the US coast only lasted a few months ...

 

Leaving the US coast uncovered was a command decision by FDR, NOT a question of "ADM King resisting convoy" as the Urban Legend goes. King was a great believer in convoy. His problem was that FDR said the Halifax-UK route had absolute priority.

Yep. It is easy to mis-understand a "reluctance" to convoy. But there are good reasons not to do it.

 

The two most important are:

1 ) Insufficient escorts

2 ) Logistical burden

 

These two interact. More than that, they multiply each other's effect.

 

If you don't have enough escorts, convoying is likely to INCREASE your casualties rather than to decrease them. That is because the convoy is easier to spot than single ships, and the submarine that does spot the convoy has the opportunity to kill multiple ships in quick succession.

 

The submarine's typical operational profile was to make an attack, and then move out of the area at speed. You wanted your sub to be somewhere else when the reaction forces arrived at the sight of the attack to conduct their hunt. If you couldn't get out of the area, you would lay low for a while. U-Boats were known to lay on the sandy bottom of the coastal shelf for a day after an attack, letting any and all ships pass overhead. Often these two were combined, so that the sub would lay low for a day, then leave the area.

 

In either case, it was a cadence of attack one day, and then don't take up the hunt again for a period of perhaps several days.

 

With a convoy, a single "attack" could involve torpedoing two or even three ships. Particularly a nighttime surface attack (where the sub might be moving notably faster than the merchants, rather than crawling along at submerged speed). So the same cadence of attack, don't attack produced more sinkings.

 

As to logistics, the whole reason you are placing your merchant ships at risk is that you have material you want to get from A to B. If you hold them in port, to collect them into convoys, you reduce the rate at which you are moving materials from A to B. If you have to hold them LONGER because you have also to assembe an escort, your logistical burden just increases.

 

Put these together, and more material flowed by letting the merchies move along the coast one-by-one, than by instituting convoying when there were not yet enough escorts to make the convoying relatively safe and efficient.

 

My 9th grade science teacher was a kid in New York during WW2. He used to tell us stories of life jackets, bodies, cargo, etc. washing up on shore. I have also read where the Germans were surprised when they reached the shores of the U.S., that blackout's weren't in operation. It made it easy for them to target ships that were outlined by the lights of the cities. New York was one of them as well as some cities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Very true.

 

The U-Boat commanders expressed strong surprise when they showed up on the East Coast in February 1942 (three months into the war) and found all of the US coastal cities lit-up for their convenience. Ships were easily visible as they sailed along skylighted by the city lights. Perfect targetting.

 

And this lasted for months. Far worse than any criticism of the USN for not convoying is the criticism of US cities for not instituting black-outs.

 

Many city councils / mayors actually resisted blacking-out as a process that would be harmful to their tourist trade. It is disheartening to think of it this way, but in essence the merchant marines dying off of their coast just weren't their problem, they didn't pay any cost when the ships were sunk off their cities, and they didn't want to pay to help fix the problem. It was really mostly when public health prohibitions on swimming at their beaches (due to oil and shipwreck detrious) began to cut the tourist trade anyways, (or their harbor revenues if they were a big-city seaport) , that most cities instituted black-outs.

 

As with the convoying, as with the U-Boat attacks, so also the black-out process started in the north eastern seaboard (New York and Boston), and worked its way southward to Florida, and then around into the gulf seaboard.

 

The sinking rates are shocking to see even at this time. More than 200 ships torpedoed and lost along the US coast over a period of less than six months. That's more than two per day!

 

Or so I've read. Wasn't there to see it myself.

 

-Mark 1

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